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4.6 out of 5 stars
Headless Cross
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2010
Compared with most of the 'classic' early Black Sabbath albums, the Tony Martin era was the least well received of the bunch. This is unfair but understandable as at the time the Ozzy and Dio material had been so good that such comparisons were unavoidable. Personally, and in hindsight, a lot of my favourite Sabbath tracks appear on either The Eternal Idol, Headless Cross and Tyr, despite their music being considerably prone to being dated. They are a very 80s sounding rock album. A lot of the fuzzy, downtuned gloom that permeated their early efforts, and actually created heavy metal in the process, have been replaced by thumping power chords and licks that bring to mind lesser acts like Dokken and superior outfits such as Whitesnake. Black Sabbath didn't go glam, but they had started to sound les and less like Black Sabbath. Of course much of this had occurred before Tony Martin stepped up to the plate. The Dio years were basically hard rock, albeit damn fine hard rock. But near the end of the 80s, Sabbath were fast becoming a less interesting band in the eyes of the establishment. In reality they were producing some classic stuff.

The opener, 'Gates of Hell' is merely an arbitrary scary keyboard effect, making the album proper merely an EP by today's standards, clocking in at a scant 7 tracks. But I'd rather these 7 than 14 with 7 filler. The title track follows and is a bona fida classic. It has a big sound, great lyrics and Tony Martin on top form, sounding less and less like he did on The Eternal Idol. 'Devil & Daughter' is equally as great, albeit in a more upbeat, mid-tempo way. It's the single song in all aspects with a great, yet subtle chorus. 'When Death Calls' is a slow burner but the chanting chorus suddenly becomes something you won't be able to forget after a few listens. 'Kill In The Spirit World' is a strange one. It starts with some crunchy, light riffs that wouldn't sound out of place on a Magnum album but then has a doomy, slow and ethereal chorus. It is rather good, though not the best on here. 'Call of the Wild' IS one of the best, with a great verse, great bridge and a super chorus. 'Black Moon' is another single contender and is one of the shortest tracks coming in at around 4 minutes. It is also flawless, catchy and brilliant. The only real letdown is 'Nightwing', the closer. It is not bad but comes in at just under 7 minutes and nothing very interesting happens within that time. It is a perfectly passable song, just a bit of a disappointment to finish with this when it could have sounded miles better.

Minor quibbles from an otherwise top-notch album. Contrary to the notions at the time, Sabbath were actually on top of their game. Tyr followed and was lambasted, but once again it is almost as good as The Headless Cross and did not deserve the negative reviews.

One of their best albums. It's just a shame that it's out of print at the time of writing and most sellers are offering it at exorbitant prices (the same is happening to other Sabbath albums, Cross Purposes, Forbidden and Tyr). The music, however is priceless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Having lost the record deal with vertigo/warners Sabbath found them selves on small label IRS,its a moot point as to wether Tony Iommi should have continued with the Sabbath Name,however he did and on this album at least tried to make it a group rather than a series of musicians,Nicholls and Martin were retained and Cozy Powell brought in on drums with session man Laurence Cottle on bass,why why why couldnt Geezer have saw the light and returned?

Still its a stronger effort than the previous ETERNAL IDOL with a more commercial,easier on the ear production so of its time with Nicholls Keyboards to the fore.

Opening with the hammer house of horror intro 'Gates of Hell' followed by the wonderous title track,which lumbers out of the speakers like the b*****d offspring of 'Heaven and Hell' before 'Devil & Daughter' and 'When Death Call' hammer home the point this is the best Sabbath have sounded since 80/81,Dio soundalike Martin puts in a superb performance.The rest of the album struggles to live up to this trio of tracks but they are still pretty good particularly 'Nightwing'.

You can argue all day and night wether this should be classed as Black Sabbath but dont let it obscure the fact that its a great album.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 25 October 2007
After essentially confusing and alienating a large proportion of their fan base Black Sabbath since about 1983 (namely Tony Iommi) decided he needed his credibility back, that's not to say that `Born Again', `Seventh Star' and `Eternal Idol' didn't produce some great stuff or weren't musically credible but the whole `Who's in your band this week, Tony?' was starting to seriously damage the bands reputation especially in the press who were quite merciless in their ribbing of Sabbath (the cheek! You write for Kerrang!). Also the fact that on `Seventh Star' and `Eternal Idol' Iommi had used a lot of more lightweight material making those albums the worst since `Technical Ecstasy' and `Never Say Die'. It's safe to say it was time for a rejuvenation and a serious return to form...and predictably the two Tony's and Cozy delivered in the face of adversity and then some, in the same way that `Heaven and Hell' had done almost a decade ago.

So what we have here is a heavy metal classic, a consistent one too. This is easily the bands strongest set of songs since the all out amazing `Mob Rules'. Not a trace of the filler that plagued `Eternal Idol'. `Headless Cross' is the best known song of the Tony Martin era and not without reason, it's a killer. From that `I play my drums with hammers' intro, to that classic Iommi riff, to Tony Martin's awe inspiring vocals, it just sets the tone for the rest of the album; cheesy, epic, heavy and generally wailing on about Satan. `Devil and Daughter' named after a Dennis Wheatley novel (and a rather mediocre Hammer film) is another top notch song apparently inspired by the truly loathsome Sharon and Don Arden, it's the fastest song here and driven along by what characterizes this album; pounding drums, excellent melodic guitars and Tony Martin wailing about Satan! And it just gets better! `When Death Calls' is the rightful successor to the epic Dio era classics (`Sign of the Southern Cross', `Falling of the Edge of the World' etc) and it's the best of a very strong collection from that eerie bass intro that apparently caused so many difficulties for future Sabbath bassists. It has a great atmosphere even by Sabbath's standard's and lets face it they are the masters. We even get a lovely bit of galloping, another flawless vocal performance and even Brian May pops round for a solo (I never liked Queen bare a few songs but he's a great player). So even 19 years into their recording career Sabbath show they can still school everyone. The albums second side (I have this on tape you see, how very 80's!) while not as strong as the first is still exceptional with no hint of filler. `Kill in the Spirit World' has Tony Martin adding a touch of class to proceedings, it's a very cheesy song even on a very cheesy album but still the strong lyrics and soaring vocals really are a treat. `Call of the Wild' continues the mid album cheese fest and its pretty much in the same vain as `Kill in the Spirit World' but with a eastern feel in places and as with the whole album very catchy and atmospheric. `Black Moon' stands out here as its got a bluesy feel to it, not early Sabbath bluesy but more `feel the wind in your mullet as you drive away from the tall man from Phantasm' bluesy (maybe that's just me), we even get some nice touches of organ (or a keyboard pretending to be an organ) from the always underrated Geoff Nichols. Ending on a high note (although to be fair the whole album never let up) is `Night Wing' which is the only song not about Satan, but owls and bats instead. There are is some damn fine riffs and leads here Iommi certainly lets rip and Laurence Cottle provides some cheesy 80's lead bass, a nice touch. And then there you have it another metal classic successfully re-establishing Black Sabbath as a major force in heavy metal, well in artistic terms at least as Headless Cross sold well in mainland Europe, England and Japan but America didn't really `get it', You Fools!

Lyrically, this album is almost entirely preoccupied with the occult and all though perhaps an acquired taste I find it very much to my liking. Tony Martin does a splendid job here and although cheesy in places its got great atmosphere and the lyrics are generally well done. He really proves himself as a writer on this album, sadly he didn't get time to write on `Eternal Idol' but he more than makes up for it here. The title track is perhaps the strongest song here lyrically and it deals with Redditch (a small town where Tony Martin lives) and about the plague in the middle ages where the residents of Redditch went to the hill of the headless cross and prayed for survival and none of them did! Metal or what? So this album has a very high Satan quota, and it really works and lets face it where would heavy metal be without Old Nick?

Musically the whole band is flawless on this release, Iommi is on terrific form and pulls out his best set of riffs in years and then wails, trills and squeals through his always magnificent lead work. New boy Cozy Powell really shouldn't need an introduction, he was one of the all time great drummers and he shows just why here. Even though it's not the best drum sound Cozy ever had (Rainbow's `rising' and Whitesnake's `Slide it in' come to mind) its still pretty damn thunderous and instantly recognisable. Laurence Cottle is essentially a session bassist, but a good one and he plays imaginatively even though I don't find his clear tight bass sound in keeping with traditional Sabbath. I suppose I'd rather have Neil Murray on this album just for the sake of continuity. Tony Martin fully realises the potential he showed on `Eternal Idol' and is not only technically excellent but sings with feeling. Sound wise I suppose this is something of a step forward for Black Sabbath but with one foot in the Dio years as its closer to `Mob Rules' and `Heaven and Hell' than any other pre-1989 Sabbath release. You can't really compare this to any of the Ozzy material and if I've ever seen a bad review its by 12 year olds who think Black Sabbath is ripping off Kyuss going `This isn't Paranoid! Meh, meh ,meh...' So I'm not even going to draw comparisons all I will say is that this, the first six Ozzy era albums and the first two with Dio are all metal classics. Albeit, this isn't as good as those albums but that's hardly a criticism.

So just when everyone had given up on Sabbath after the whole mid 80's `let's go to Hollywood, hire hair metal singers, do coke, marry Lita Ford etc' fiasco Mr Iommi finally got his stuff together and delivered what we all wanted to here (no not Paranoid II, you stoner fan!) but a true metal classic of the highest order. Thanks Mr Martin for the Satan factor, thank you Mr Powell for lending your Hammer's and err its been nice to see you Laurence I hope the jazz fusion goes well. Oh yeah, and if your keeping track this is better than `No Rest For The Wicked' so that's Iommi 6, Osbourne 0. And just to help things that little bit more the cover art is great (perhaps my favourite along side the debut and `Sabbath Bloody Sabbath') and `Headless Cross' has a great promo video too. Highly recommended.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 21 May 2010
After a few years of derision in the press, and a line up which couldn't hold for more than a few months, you wouldn't blame Tony Iommi for giving up the ghost on Black Sabbath. Everyone but the diehard fans had, and his last album, The Eternal Idol sold well beneath expectations.

Iommi, is made of tougher material though - and after a brief hiatus, and a change of record label from Warner Bros. and Vertigo to the smaller IRS records (the main mistake he made in his lengthy career), he contacted long time friend Cozy Powell to work on songs and credibility for the band.

Joining him were Geoff Nicholls and Tony Martin - the two survivors from the Eternal Idol sessions, and sessionman Laurence Cottle on bass - and just when Sabbath needed it most, they delivered an album, though heavily steeped in the production style of the late 80's, which was an absolute monster.

After the eerie intro of The Gates of Hell, the title track arrives - Cozy's signature thunder welcomes us to the hill of the Headless Cross - a song that is surprisingly keyboard driven more than guitar, a move unexpected and it's a ripper. Tony Martin, considered to be nothing more than a Dio clone proved he was anything but, as he tore his larynx out in shrieks that even Rob Halford would have trouble copying.

Devil and Daughter was a pop infused radio rock piece of fluff which is held together by Cozy and Laurence's groove. Good solo from Tony I. as well.

When Death Calls - a classic Sabbath song - slow at first, atmospheric with Cottle's bass intro superb. Just when you can't think it can get any better, as it heats up in the middle - Brian May of Queen plays a solo on the track. One of Black Sabbath's finest moments. Superb.

Kill in the Spirit World - another radio friendly song with a great breakdown and solo in the middle.

Call of the Wild - And again - radio friendly rock - but this one is more considered. Great layered vocals from Martin. After all the classic doom and gloom, Sabbath were showing a more melodic side that was only glimpsed with the Dio era.

Black Moon - a re-recorded track from a b-side off the Eternal Idol album - Cozy swings the blues with his classic rock groove - this version is more polished than the original, but it sounds great. Martin and Iommi are superb here.

And finally, the piece de resistance of the album - Nightwing.

After a reverse intro fades to the main riff, Iommi's beautiful guitars and Cottle's superb fretless bass intro, Martin spins us a tale of a great hunter of the night (which turns out to be about owls and bats in the end - way to spoil the mystique Tony!)Great subtle keys by Nicholls too. Appropriately, the song fades out with a frenzied solo from Iommi and Cozy pounding his drums into dust.

Martin's vocals here are terrific - though he does probably force himself too much towards the end a bit like Glenn Hughes does, the whole song is wonderful.

This is easily, the finest post Dio era Sabbath album by a long way - and the finest work by Tony Martin in the band, an album which will stand the test of time as a lost Sabbath classic.
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on 29 October 2011
I've been a fan of rock/metal since I was a young boy, and continue to be enthralled by it several decades later. I had already enjoyed Sabbath's material before things looked like the end was in sight for the band.
Then, along came Tony Martin and Cozy Powell.
This album arrived when the whole world and his dog was buying up Kylie and Jason singles and anything belched out by the Stock, Aitken, Waterman production line. Albums were going out of fashion, and the age of rock was pretty much over.
The sound of this album is awesome- and it needs to be to properly highlight Martin's vocal power. Many fans finally turned their backs on Sabbath after the departure of Dio, but they were premature. For me, Martin was my favourite vocalist for the band (but Ozzy and Dio didn't disgrace themselves by any means). Often, fans leave a band when one of the main players leave, but I always suggest looking at them as a completely new band, rather than the old one with some spare parts fitted. Deep Purple and Marillion are classic examples.
The songs on Headless Cross are supremely powerful- the guiters are massive, the drums are used to their full extent for once- and the overall experience is one of exciting theatre.
All in all, a fantastic reminder of how the drama of rock can take you on a thrilling journey. I'm also a fan of classical music, amd this is how I'd imagine Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich would interpret their work using modern instruments.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2004
This is one of those albums that actually deserves the title classic. I am surprised at some of the negative comments people have made because Tony Iommi could easily present this is one of his best works. The erie instrumental intro leads in to the title track which is a track whose influences I hear in other artists today with its remorseless beat, great riff and soaring vocals. The following Devil and Daughter successfully ups the tempo followed by When Death Calls (brilliant) with its soft verses and evil sounding chorus...very atmospheric.
Side two (as was) keeps the class moving with the awesome Nightwing to finish with.
The album has a moody darkness about it whilst keeping good melodies in the songs. Tony Martin peaks at this time with, I believe, some of his best performances.
Quite honestly, all these years on, this is an album that feels fresh and gives me the same enjoyment in listening to.
Just to give you an idea where I'm coming from, although I liked Ozzy, I am more of a Tony Martin fan, so read this review with that in mind.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2001
Tony Martin's vocals are excellent. Stand out tracks would be When death calls , Black Moon Rising , Kill in the Spirit World and the title track ....Sabbath has gone "darker" than before. If you're into dark lyrics , this album is for you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2014
as a Sabbath fan of 35 years this album is a classic no crap songs unlike some from the first eight the title track alone is fantastic infact buy any Sabbath album with tony Martin on it and you are in for a treat great singer great band
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on 5 November 2012
This album is not the typical Black Sabbath style, there some who hate it because it is more power or hard rock than heavy doom, and because the vocalist is not Ozzy or Dio.
I don't think like this, i love Ozzy and Dio vocals, but here Tony Martin has an outstanding vocals, that not shame the other two.
Again, it is not like 'Black Sabbath', 'Sabotage' or 'Heaven And Hell', but if i look at this as an album, it is great!
All the songs here are great, especially 'When Death Calls', 'Kill In The Spirit World' and 'Nightwing'. Martin's voice is outstanding and exciting.
It is still heavy album, i recommend any metalhead, rocker and Black Sabbath fan to own it or buy it. Today it is rare but do your best.
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on 10 January 2008
First things first. Sabbath fans generally fall into 2 categories: the Ozzy fans and the Dio fans. Personally I have been a Dio fan since his days in Elf and wasn't that impreseed with Sabs released Eternal idol. Headless cross on the other hand deserves to be up there with Heaven & Hell and Mob Rules. Tony Iommis riffs encapsulate the sabbath sound while still sounding fresh, Cozey Powell batters seven shades out his drumkit and Tony marting has never sounded better.

Foregt the garbled warbling of a drug adeled Ozzy. No one will touch Dio, but Tony Martin came pretty damn close!
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